Defunding the police is a high priority for the RPA and the 15 members they appointed to the Reimagine Public Safety Task Force. But with the vast majority of Richmond residents, it is an unpopular idea. For the last week and a half, I have been getting lots of emails from Richmond residents on either side of the Defund the Police issue. Samples are shown below. I have received over a thousand emails from residents opposing defunding and 20 from residents in favor of defunding. The RPA City Council members feel that since they were elected, whatever they believe must reflect the opinions of the community.
Informal polls on social media are showing similar results. A poll on Facebook copied below shows 74% opposed and 26% in favor.
At the end of this email is a pretty well balanced article from the San Francisco Chronicle.
From: Janet Johnson <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, May 28, 2021 11:11 AM
To: Tom Butt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Reimagine Public Safety in Richmond!
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2021 7:34 AM
To: Tom Butt <email@example.com>
Subject: Keep our communities safe and vote no on cuts to RPD
Dear Mayor Butt:
I am writing to ask that you take our community's safety and best interest to heart. A cut to the Richmond Police Department would mean 32 less officers on our streets and would have significant impacts on crime, response times and overall public safety.
We all know that additional funding towards community services and intervention programs would help with homelessness, gun violence prevention and intervention, and the mental health crisis on our streets. But slashing the Richmond Police Department's budget without a thorough plan only means 32 less police officers working in our community -- that's just not safe.
Richmond has already seen what defunding our police department means for the city. Our police department has been understaffed with officers forced to work overtime, making it harder for them to be there when we need them most. We've also seen the impacts of a defunded police department in cities like Vallejo and Oakland where crime is on the rise. Richmond deserves better.
We don't need to defund our police -- we need a DETAILED plan for REAL reform.
I urge you to vote NO on budget cuts to the Richmond Police Department. We can make reforms that make sense without putting our friends, family and neighbors at risk.
Re: Reimagine Public Safety in Richmond!
Dear Tom Butt,|
It's time to continue what former Chief Magnus started and take it to the next level.
I am calling on you, my elected officials, to reimagine public safety for all in Richmond, not just a few. There is a scarcity of resources that the most underserved in our communities need access to. I am asking you to support the reallocation of funding from the Richmond Police Department budget to fund five new safety programs that target the root causes of homelessness, gun violence, mental health crises, racial profiling, and youth unemployment.
The City of Richmond needs to reinvest in a public safety system that reflects our values and priorities for all community members. Right now, about 40% of the city’s general funds go to the Richmond Police department, which is $612 per capita spending on police. That is to say, when compared to 25 of the largest cities in the country, Richmond comes in only 4th after Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago in police spending.
We can't continue down the same old path with the same tragic outcomes for our community.
We need you to reimagine how we address problems through prevention, intervention, and pro-action, instead of reaction. Please support the proposals from the Reimagining Public Safety Community Taskforce.
5804 Alameda Ave. Richmond, CA 94804 Constituent
Prepared by OneClickPolitics (tm) at www.oneclickpolitics.com. OneClickPolitics provides online communications tools for supporters of a cause, issue, organization or association to contact their elected officials. For more information regarding our policies and services, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco Chronicle: $10.3 million to the police or social services? One Bay Area city will soon decide
May 29, 2021Updated: May 29, 2021 4 a.m.
Richmond Police Chief Bisa French, the only Black woman police chief in the state, worries that proposed cuts to her department would mean the loss of 35 officers and set her up for failure.
Jessica Christian/The Chronicle
The car radio crackled and Richmond police Sgt. Joe England put his foot on the gas. Calls were stacking up.
He woke a disoriented woman who was lying in a playground without pants and sent her on her way. He provided backup while officers arrested a man for allegedly stealing a children’s bicycle from a Walmart and punching the security guard.
England counted the number of working beat officers on two hands that Monday afternoon: nine, plus two supervisors — himself included — but one was booking someone into jail and another was in court. The call from four hours ago, reporting a catalytic converter theft, would have to wait.
In a month, the size and structure of this East Bay police force could change, as Richmond pursues a bold experiment that other cities have tested following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. For Richmond, it would mean laying off up to 35 police officers while shifting $10.3 million of the department’s $67.2 million budget to social services.
Activists and the mostly progressive City Council are enthusiastic. The mayor and police chief are wary, and residents appear divided. Some call for more robust policing. Others urge investment in jobs, housing and anti-violence programs to address the root causes of crime.
People on both sides are keenly aware of the stakes. Among them is Marisol Cantú, a third-generation resident and member of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force, which formed last June after Floyd’s death. Its 21 appointed members met for 10 months to craft a new funding plan, originally aimed to improve community relations with a leaner police force.
Cantú believes that redistributing roughly 15% of the Police Department budget will change Richmond “in such a tremendous way that it’s almost unfathomable, because it goes back to the philosophy of who is safe in the city.”
The diverted funds would supply $3.4 million for Richmond’s unsheltered population and $2.5 million for the Office of Neighborhood Safety, bringing its annual budget up to $4.5 million. The YouthWORKS Summer Youth Employment Program would see its funding soar from $375,000 a year to $2.3 million. And $2.4 million would be invested in a community crisis response program for calls related to mental health episodes, which currently fall on police.
But police Chief Bisa French says the cuts would hobble her force, and Mayor Tom Butt views the proposal as radical. City Manager Laura Snideman will present an alternative recommendation on Tuesday: $5.58 million for social services, with $2.3 million drawn from police.
Straining for the best metaphor to describe a fractured city, the mayor said people inhabit two planets with opposing views of the policing debate.
“On one, police are bad. And the fewer we have, the better,” Butt said. “On the other — which is mine — our police department is not perfect. But it’s better than a lot. And there’s always room for improvement.”
He fears that police would no longer have enough staff to address the majority of complaints — for noise, shoplifting, traffic violations, porch pirates, copper wire and catalytic converter thefts — and would instead have to devote all their resources to serious crimes like homicides, robberies and assaults.
Some task force members see no problem with that change, arguing that violence should be the department’s primary focus, and that people other than police should deal with quality-of-life issues.
“There’s been a couple of murders over the past couple of weeks in the city of Richmond, and I think they should just be spending time investigating,” Armond Lee said. At 24, he’s the youngest task force member — a UCLA student and self-described police abolitionist, who acknowledges it may take years to eradicate traditional law enforcement.
Chief French, the only Black woman in the state to helm a municipal police force, has found herself in a delicate position. She embraces reforms, but worries her department will stumble if the city depletes its ranks.
“It’s really setting me up for failure,” French told The Chronicle.
Nobody wants the chief to fail, said task force member Randy Joseph. He’s also the chair of the Community Police Review Commission, an oversight body that reviews complaints and evaluates department policies.
In an ideal world, public safety shouldn’t fall on one department, or one leader, Joseph said.
“We hear from the Police Department, ‘We’re overworked, we’re tired, stressed out, we can’t do this, we can’t do that,” Joseph said. “Then we say, ‘OK, we’ll take this stuff away from you to get it off your shoulders. And they go, ‘No no no no no, don’t do that.’”
French said she is authorized to have 157 officers, but that 11 positions are vacant and she’s reluctant to fill them knowing any new hires might get laid off.
She applauds aspects of the Reimagining plan, saying the emphasis on youth jobs and violence prevention “will eventually lead to a safer community.” Yet the chief cautioned that because of seniority rules in the union contract, the first officers to lose jobs would be younger people of color that she and a predecessor, Chris Magnus, worked to recruit.
The debate has intensified as councilmembers prepare to vote on a budget in June. A few dissenting voices on the task force contend that the proposed cuts are too rash. They include police union president Ben Therriault, who is running for Contra Costa County sheriff in 2022. He recently joined a coalition of merchants and neighborhood groups who are submitting petitions and running social media ads, hoping to keep police funding intact.
“The original intent of the task force — making law enforcement better — was highjacked, and it turned into a defund task force,” Therriault said. “It’s unfortunate,” he added. “Because the ideas and concepts were good.”
Another member, Linda Whitmore, said she opposed laying off so many officers, but would endorse a more phased-in approach. One city adopting that strategy is San Francisco, where officials siphoned $120 million over two years from the police, sheriff and district attorney by eliminating vacant positions, scaling back overtime and shrinking the fleet of police cars. San Francisco will spend the money on programs to benefit its Black community, such as guaranteed income and help for small businesses.
Oakland is still weighing whether to reduce police funding in the upcoming budget, though its policymakers are trying other innovations. Earlier this year, its City Council approved a plan to send crisis responders from the Fire Department to calls related to mental health.
When French took the reigns last year, she wanted to help more women and people of color ascend the ranks. But COVID decimated Richmond’s budget, causing the Police Department to lose $10.3 million from the previous year, and forcing the chief to freeze 31 sworn and civilian positions.
As the Reimagining plan inches forward, she’s anticipating other cuts: Investigations. The traffic unit. The community violence reduction team, which tries to quell human trafficking and retaliatory shootings. The regulatory unit that handles marijuana licenses and taxis.
Within the rank and file, Therriault said he is struggling to fend off panic.
Driving up Cutting Boulevard on May 24, Sgt. England acknowledged that morale is low. As of that week, he’d heard, some 20 officers had applied elsewhere.
Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @rachelswan
Rachel Swan covers criminal justice as part of the Chronicle's investigative and enterprise team. She joined the paper in 2015 and has also reported on transportation and politics.
Previously, Rachel held staff positions at the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, where she covered technology, law and the arts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley.